Bluetooth wireless technology has been around for about 15 years and gained traction enabling wireless communication for hands-free chatting in the car, cell phone headsets and computer accessories (like keyboards and joysticks). Gadgetry's still improving in that area; while sound and connection quality has gone up, prices have come down to the point that Bluetooth is now widely available as a standard feature or factory option, even on many basic, budget-friendly cars.
So ... once Bluetooth pairs every cell phone to a car, or every car to a cell, what comes next? Now Bluetooth is found in everything from home decor to medical equipment. It seems like there's no shortage of devices that can be made wireless, and anything that can be paired probably will be, regardless of its productivity potential. Once the practical possibilities were thoroughly explored, companies started to have a little fun. Some of Bluetooth's recent applications seem kind of goofy (like pairing a wireless bathroom scale to a computer program to track weight from day to day). Others aren't much more useful, but are considerably more fun (at least, your pets will think so -- you'll see what we mean). In addition to a bit of frivolity, our list of the latest must-have Bluetooth gadgets features some of the more obvious candidates, like new home audio equipment. So whether you're holiday gift shopping or merely curious, keep reading to learn more about the latest in Bluetooth technology.
ThinkGeek Retro Phone Handset
Like Juno and her hamburger phone, a throwback telephone always generates a bit of comic relief. Thanks to ThinkGeek, there's no need to go too far back in time, though. Wires and cords can stay banished to the junk drawer. You can enjoy the tactile feel of an old school rotary phone with the Bluetooth Retro Handset, and you still don't even need your land line.
Available in red or black, the Retro Handset uses Bluetooth to pair with your cell phone to make and receive calls. The battery charges through a cord to a USB port (which adds an unintentionally hilarious element of charm -- the necessity of hooking the vintage-style handset to a computer). But once it's charged and the phones are paired, you're good to go.
Though it won't check e-mail, update your Facebook status or stream Netflix, this smoothly-contoured unit will allow you to chat like a champ. Size-wise, it's probably on par with Zack Morris' ginormous cell â€¦ but it must be said, even though the Bluetooth Retro Handset is intended to be a goofy and endearing accessory, there's a comfort factor that's since been lost from our telecommunications experience. A traditional handset's easy to hold, and the weight is soothing. The earpiece is situated by the ear; the mouthpiece is placed comfortably and naturally in front of the mouth. You won't smear your precious touchscreen with facial detritus or stare dismally at the dead skin cells gathered in the keypad's creases. Remember what that feels like? (Probably not.) And the Bluetooth has a decent range, too. You can even wander 30 feet or so away from your cell phone while you talk!
Sure, it looks a little odd to have a phone handset just sitting there, but that's part of its charm. Even if you aren't a nostalgia geek or a kitsch collector, we've got plenty more Bluetooth goodness on the following pages.
Phantom Keyless Home Entry
Automotive keyless entry was, initially, exclusive to the luxury sector, but gradually trickled down as consumers grew accustomed to the idea. Unlocking a car with a wireless transponder requires a certain leap of faith (so many things can seemingly go wrong). Surrendering your home's security to airborne data seems like another beast entirely, but it was only a matter of time. As consumers put more trust in their phones, they seem ready to abandon the tactile satisfaction of feeling tumblers click in a lock as the key is turned.
Thus enters the Phantom Keyless Home Entry System. Thanks to Bluetooth, the system automatically recognizes your phone when you're within range and unlocks the door for you -- you don't need to fire up an app, push any buttons or even pull your phone out of your pocket. When you close the door, it automatically locks behind you, so you won't have to worry about forgetting to lock up.
Because your original door handle stays intact, you can keep your regular key as a backup and there's no telltale signs to attract potential intruders from a distance. (A small transponder does need to be installed near the lock, but Phantom says it can be easily camouflaged to blend in with your home's exterior.)
Any Bluetooth-capable phone is capable of being paired to the device (since the system doesn't rely on apps, even older non-smartphone mobiles will work), and the Phantom system will only open for phones you've authenticated. There's no limit to how many phones you can pair to your system, which makes it easier to give emergency access to friends or neighbors -- and it's more secure than leaving a key under the flowerpot. If the security is ever breached (like if a family member's phone is lost) the system can be reset quickly.
On the next page, we'll show you how Bluetooth can help keep your important data close at hand.
Casio G-Shock Bluetooth Watch
Sometimes, technology that's intended to streamline our lives actually doesn't work as intended. Take, for example, the options for Bluetooth watches. These wristwatches function pretty much like normal watches -- stopwatch, timer, alarms -- but also pair to smartphones to alert users of new calls or messages, just in case the phone isn't within arm's reach 24/7. But by pairing the two gadgets, making the phone slightly more convenient has the effect of making the watch considerably less convenient. Bluetooth, put simply, is an energy sapper -- when two devices are paired, they're communicating constantly, even if there's no tangible evidence (like active downloads) on either end. In other words, if your watch is scanning your phone for new data, both batteries are draining even if you're not receiving any calls or messages. So while most people expect watches to chug away for a couple years without maintenance, Bluetooth-enabled watches require regular recharging in much the same manner and schedule as a smartphone.
In January of 2011, Casio announced a new G-Shock watch enabled with BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology, which uses a fraction of the energy to do the same thing. This Casio even runs on a regular watch battery and has a standard two-year battery life. (The caveat is that BLE is dependent on Bluetooth 4.0, so this watch may not be compatible with older smartphones.) The G-Shock brand, complete with its chunky style and durable construction, is all the better to reinforce the idea that a phone/watch Bluetooth pairing need not be a delicate combination.
Like its competitors, the Bluetooth G-Shock pairs to a smartphone and displays the phone's incoming data. The time, date and any previously set alarms on the phone sync automatically to the watch, and the phone's ringer can also be controlled through the watch. If the phone is lost somewhere in Bluetooth's range (about 30 feet), a command on the watch can make the phone ring so it's easily found.
Nearly a year after the G-Shock Bluetooth was announced, it wasn't yet listed amongst its G-Shock peers on Casio's website, but that hasn't stifled the lust of gadget bloggers. When it does become available, Casio expects developers to collaborate on a range of applications to increase its functionality, such as fitness trackers and stock tickers. You know, just like the smartphone that you'll now have to pull out of your pocket a little less often.
On the next page, we'll discuss a new alternative to complicated, high-investment home audio systems.
In terms of wireless household entertainment, the Bose SoundLink Mobile Speaker is among the few formidable competitors to Apple's AirPlay system. The price is on par; the features are similar. But while AirPlay is designed to function best as part of a fully integrated wireless home entertainment system, the Bose unit is less of a commitment. It's rugged and portable, lending appeal to customers with a smaller budget or a home that, for whatever reason, can't have audio components installed throughout.
The SoundLink is a tablet-sized speaker that can pair with up to six Bluetooth devices (to connect to the music collection stored on your computer, tablet, or phone). Just a few taps and your music is played wirelessly through the speaker. (It also has an auxiliary input, just in case, so it can be used with non-Bluetooth devices like iPods and portable DVD players.) Bose says the music stream won't be interrupted by calls, e-mails or Internet surfing on the mobile device in use. And to increase durability and aesthetics, a portfolio-like folding cover (in a choice of colors) functions as a stand when it's open and automatically turns off the speaker when it's closed.
Bose is a company that stakes its reputation on sound quality, but portability is really the SoundLink's selling point. Weighing in at less than 3 pounds (1.36 kilograms), and measuring roughly 10 inches (25.4 cm) wide, 5 inches tall (12.7 cm), and two inches (5.08 cm) thick, the SoundLink is easy to scoop up and tote around the house while you look for a comfy spot to spend a few hours. Or, you can take the SoundLink with you -- it's easy to tuck into a backpack or bag along with your laptop. The rechargeable battery lasts about 8 hours (depending on the volume), and it's moisture-resistant (though Bose doesn't give specifics) so feel free to roam a bit (poolside, perhaps, but probably not showerside).
If the last few pages of technical information made your head spin, we have a treat for you -- the next page has another lust-worthy Bluetooth-enabled bauble that'll make you even dizzier.
For the last product on our list, we eschewed the time-saving and multi-tasking options. You can tell yourself, all you want, that you're actually dropping a wad of cash on Sphero for the benefit of your cats. It's OK, we know the truth.
Sphero is composed of a polycarbonate ball that allows light to pass through, even though it's strong and durable. The translucency is a key feature, since Sphero's core holds LED lights that glow through the shell. The LEDs are capable of a color spectrum of thousands.
Despite the vaguely ethereal appearance, Sphero looks otherwise like an ordinary ball, which is simultaneously unfortunate and awesome. It would be a shame to be unappreciated based on its commonplace exterior, but Sphero can enact the most damage on an unsuspecting victim. It pairs via Bluetooth to an Apple or Android phone or tablet, and can then be controlled through a variety of amusing antics. For precision, try giving Sphero commands with the phone's touch screen. If spontaneity is your specialty, Sphero will also interpret and execute movement based on your phone's motion sensor. In other words, if you swing your phone through the air like a Nintendo Wii controller, Sphero will respond in kind. (Phone holster with wrist strap? Probably a good idea, but not included.) When Sphero's tired, it's charged by simply resting on its docking station.
Since Sphero is controlled through the phone, and phones are highly customizable with apps, this is where it gets really fun. The Golf program lets you swing your phone like a club, attempting to land Sphero in a virtual hole. The Driving app lets you tilt, turn and steer your phone, so you can race against a friend or get some time trial practice through a series of courses' curves and straightaways. Or, as we promised, use Sphero as a high-tech pet toy. Once your cats are tired of chasing the ball, flash the LEDs and change direction. The KittyCam app even lets you record their reactions.
Sphero's creator, Orbotix, describes this little menace as a "mixed reality experience." We're just grateful for an escape from practicality.
Keep reading for Lots More Information about the latest Bluetooth goodies.
MIT's AlterEgo allows people to control computers without ever uttering one word. HowStuffWorks looks at how this could change the way we communicate.
- ABlogtoRead.com. "Casio Bluetooth Watch for Smart Phones." Feb. 6, 2011. (Nov. 10, 2011) http://www.ablogtoread.com/casio-bluetooth-watch-for-smart-phones/
- ABlogtoRead.com. "Casio G-Shock Bluetooth Watch Revealed." March 23, 2011. (Nov. 10, 2011) http://www.ablogtoread.com/casio-g-shock-bluetooth-watch-revealed/
- Bluetooth.com. "About Us." (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.bluetooth.com/Pages/About-Us
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- Orbotix. "Sphero." 2011. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.gosphero.com
- Phantom Smart Home. "Phantom Keyless Home Entry." (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.phantomsmarthome.com/
- Tarantola, Andrew. "Sphero the Robotic Hamster Ball is About to Make Your Cat's Life Hell." Gizmodo. Sept. 14, 2011. (Nov. 10, 2011) http://gizmodo.com/5840003/sphero-the-robotic-hamster-ball-is-about-to-make-your-cats-life-hellid=com.wyse.pocketcloudfull&feature=search_result
- ThinkGeek. "ThinkGeek Bluetooth Retro Handset." (Nov. 10, 2011) http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/cellphone/8928/?srp=4id=com.google.android.apps.docs&feature=search_result
- Wagner, Kyle. "Bose Tells AirPlay To Eat It With Its SoundLink Mobile Bluetooth Speaker." Gizmodo. Sept. 15, 2011. (Nov. 10, 2011) http://gizmodo.com/5840842/bose-tells-airplay-to-eat-it-with-its-soundlink-mobile-bluetooth-speaker